I’ve gotten a lot of questions lately from friends who are interested in making their own sauerkraut. If four people have approached me personally in the past two weeks, then I’d bet there are others of you out there who are flirting with the idea of fermenting, too. This post’s for you.photo 2-5

I’ve titled it “Fermentation for the Skittish” because in almost every instance, when someone approaches me about fermenting, they have articulated a fear that they will do it wrong and KILL THEIR FAMILY.

(Clearly, my friends and I are worriers.)

Let me be transparent here – if the fermentation of cabbage required precision to prevent catastrophe, it would not interest me.

I’ve heard it said that fermenting is the opposite of baking – it was Jill Ciciarelli, perhaps? Her book, Fermented: A Four-Season Approach to Paleo Probiotic Foods is fabulous, by the way, and available in my Marketplace. That nails down the appeal for me. I can experiment, play and be as inexact as possible and still get a great kraut.

If you are the type of person who is worried you will sicken your family with your ferments, let me take a second to put your mind at ease.

We have this cultural belief that BACTERIA = BAD. We try to assault them at every turn – with triclosan soaps in the restroom, antibiotics prescribed for viruses (don’t get me started!), and keeping our kids out of the dirt.

What if I were to tell you, though, that that body that houses you? It actually has more bacteria cells than human cells:

All the bacteria living inside you would fill a half-gallon jug; there are 10 times more bacterial cells in your body than human cells, according to Carolyn Bohach, a microbiologist at the University of Idaho (U.I.), along with other estimates from scientific studies. (Despite their vast numbers, bacteria don’t take up that much space because bacteria are far smaller than human cells.) Although that sounds pretty gross, it’s actually a very good thing.

Melinda Wenner, Scientific American, “Humans Carry More Bacterial Cells than Human Ones,” November 30, 2007

Some bacteria can make you sick, that is true. But just because there are a few nasty pathogens, we shouldn’t give the whole class of cells the boot.

We are only now starting to peel away the layers of the bacteria/human onion to reveal the amazing relationship that we have with these little organisms. I predict, over time, our cultural paranoia over “bacteria” will slowly subside.

My fears about fermentation were rooted in childhood memories watching my mother can, and being warned that if you didn’t seal the jars ‘just so,’ you would get botulism and die.

It’s no wonder I did lots of research before I started my fermentation journey.

Before I read Ciciarelli’s aforementioned book, I checked out Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation (also available in the Marketplace.) It’s a fun, easy read loaded with the history and science behind fermenting plus recipes for anything you could ever imagine you would want to ferment.

Diane Sanfilippo of Practical Paleo fame has a simple kraut recipe here, but I was worried that her method might emit too strong of an odor for my kraut-averse (although of German ancestry) husband.

I opted for a Pickl-It system.

Using my Pickl-It couldn’t be simpler, although I will confess, the directions that come with the system did leave me scratching my head. Here’s what I do:

  1. I buy a head of green cabbage or two.
  2. I save one or two big leaves.
  3. I shred the rest in my food processor.
  4. I place it in a large bowl and salt it well.
  5. I let it sit there, usually while I get the kids down at night.
  6. I grab another bowl, and place a handful of cabbage + 1/4 tsp salt in it.
  7. I massage and work the cabbage until it’s very watery.
  8. I repeat until done.
  9. I ram it all down into my Pickl-It jar as tightly as I can, making sure the “brine” is higher than the cabbage.
  10. I add the large leaves to the top and place the Pickl-It weight over it all.
  11. I seal the jar, add water to the mechanism on top, cover it in a rag and place it in a cabinet for 1-2 weeks.

photo 1-5I throw other things in there sometimes: carrots, Napa cabbage, dandelion greens, radishes, beets, kohlrabi, leeks, garlic. Like I said, I play, experiment with flavors and generally have a fun time seeing what the end result is.

If thyroid regulation is an issue for you, you will want to proceed with caution when eating fermented cabbage, as fermentation may impact the goitrogenic qualities of the cabbage. (For a nuanced view, see Chris Kresser’s take here, starting at minute 12:40.) But, never fear! Fermenting can still be yours even if you don’t want to use cabbage. Sauerruben is an amazingly delicious alternative to traditional kraut. You ferment turnips just as you would cabbage, and the result is a mellow ferment with a lovely texture.

There are loads of terrific websites about fermenting all over the web, so if you are interested, poke around and definitely share your finds here or on Facebook. Here are some of my favorites:

I’ve focused mainly on veggies here, but you can ferment so many things – dairy, water, tea, honey, and so much more.

Let me know if you have any questions that I haven’t addressed and as you begin your fermentation journey please do pop by to share what you’ve discovered!

Check out this post and others like it at Nourishing Joy’s Thank Goodness It’s Monday #77!

2 Responses to “Fermentation for the Skittish”

  1. on 24 Jun 2014 at 8:39 pmsandkpete

    Thanks I really want to try this one day

  2. on 25 Jun 2014 at 10:42 amDaphne

    I love to ferment! Yay 🙂
    Great read!!!
    Kristin, will you please email me at address
    above when you find the time?
    I have a favor to ask you! 😉 Daphne

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